Work In Progress

Tech, ed and business leaders convene in Santa Fe to ponder the future.

What will future technological disruptions look like? And how can educators, employers and states prepare for those disruptions' impacts on workers? These are some of the overarching questions industry, government and education leaders will drill down into and tackle next week at The New Collar Workforce Ideation Summit in Santa Fe.

They also were the focus of Future Workforce Now, an 18-month project from the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, FHI360 and the Fab Foundation, which convened three panels over the last year around the country, among other research initiatives.

Rachael Stephens, program director at NGA's Economic Opportunity, serves as an adviser to state leaders on workforce development and education policies. Future Workforce Now, she tells SFR, was aimed at figuring out "the key questions the governors and states were really looking to answer around what the future of work looks like, what all that means for human beings, what it means for the workforce, what it means for skills and training needs and, from there, how state policy can and should be reimagined to address these emerging needs."

She says many states and governors are "grappling with understanding what the technological disruptions look like in their states, and how they are impacting specific workforces in different regions." Overall, the conversations that have taken place made clear there is interest in building "ecosystems that support lifelong learning," as well as the importance and challenges "that exist around engaging employers in this work." A framework for this work was presented earlier this month to representatives from 29 states at a Chicago conference.

Stephens will be presenting the project's findings at the Santa Fe conference, in concert with Sarah Boisvert, founder of Fab Lab Hub, part of the MIT-based Fab Lab Network, which operates at Santa Fe Community College and the Santa Fe Business Incubator.

Boisvert, author of The New Collar Workforce, has worked in manufacturing for decades, and sees the needs spreading to other industries.

"In my field of manufacturing, we've used robotics as long as I've been in the field," she notes. Now other industries are following suit, from grocery stores employing cashierless technologies to other stores integrating robotic industrial cleaners. "So, we have someone who is moderating a panel who is a senior consultant for Walmart and they are very concerned [about] how do we retrain our front line workers," Boisvert says. "What we really want to do is get the educators and policy makers and employers talking to each other about what is it we need and being sure we are training people for the jobs that industry is looking at."

The need for education systems to adapt to changing workforce needs will be the topic of a discussion at the summit moderated by Erica Barreiro, dean of the School of Communication, Humanities and Social Sciences at Central New Mexico Community College. Barreiro was granted a one-year fellowship at CNM to explore what the college "needs to be thinking about in order to position ourselves as an institution of higher learning" in the future.

"I have been really convinced that in higher education we are currently in a major shift," Barreiro says. "It's my opinion we are in much the same place that newspapers and publishing was 10 years ago. There will be fundamental changes in what we look like in the next five years."

Today's classroom, she says, "looks largely the same as it did 20 years ago or 30 years ago or 40 years ago," and needs to adapt to today's students. Colleges model everything from schedules to curriculum to financial aid to dormitories based on the notion that students are 18-year-old recent high-school graduates. In reality, 70 percent of CNM's students, she says, work while they go to school. Calling these students "non-traditional" is a misnomer, she says, "because they are now the core of who we serve, and yet so many of those functions … are not positioned to serve them. We need to shift what we're doing in a way that prioritizes and recognizes this new reality."

Last year, she helped CNN organize a future of work conference and discovered how many people "were hungry" to discuss the topic. "We're grappling with it," she says, "and we really need to take leadership in this conversation in our community because it has profound impacts for the way we're serving our community."

A recurrent issue revolves around access and equity. Those also are at the forefront for Tim Castillo, a University of New Mexico associate professor in the School of Architecture and Planning, and associate dean for research and special advisor to the provost for Santa Fe Initiatives, the latter title involving UNM's interest in developing a satellite facility on the Midtown campus.

Castillo last year developed a mobile makers lab with the Air Force Research Lab and New Mexico Tech, the intention of which, he says, "is to really get out to the rural areas to bring these technologies" to middle-school students.

Castillo, whose teaching already incorporates digital prototyping technology, sees much opportunity in New Mexico for developing future workforce skills. " … It positions us for the future in terms of creating new venues for economic development," he says.

He also sees challenges, as do others, in how the K-12 education system can revamp to address the changing landscape.

That's a question that requires industry and the rest of the community to help answer, according to Gwen Perea Warniment, New Mexico Public Education Department Deputy Secretary of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and summit participant.

"What I'm hoping for at the conference is to really invite industry and community stakeholders to help us think through what the K-12 space can be, including a re-design, particularly at the secondary level," Perea Warniment tells SFR. That redesign would incorporate rethinking curriculum, the role of internships and workforce training, as well as redefining what it means to be a high school graduate overall.

"That's the work we're going to be embarking on," she says, "where we think through [that] instead of graduation being a mechanism of course requirements or competency with a test, how are students coming away with job-embedded skills and the ability to collaborate?"

The New Collar Workforce Ideation Summit
Nov. 5-6 at La Fonda on the Plaza,
100 E San Francisco St.

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